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BARBER ON TV DEAL

4 March 2016

Albion's chief executive answers questions relating to Sky's Football League coverage.


With Brighton & Hove Albion featuring on television more than ever before, the issue of fixture changes has been a hot topic of debate on forums, social media and amongst supporters. It's also been the subject of many of your emails to the club. Of course, there are a wide range of views, but in order to help fans understand the club's position (and perhaps bust a few myths out there) chief executive Paul Barber has produced a FAQs piece, detailing the club and Football League's position with regard to the current TV deal.

1. What is the club's position on The Football League's Sky TV deal?

We are part of a collective agreement, negotiated and agreed by the Football League on behalf of all its 72 clubs, for the benefit of all 72 clubs. Annual TV income is extremely important for all clubs, including ours. In what has become an emotive issue for some, this is easily forgotten.

While it is Championship clubs that are featured on Sky most often during the season - and therefore it's fans of those clubs that see more fixture changes - the value of the League's TV deal also benefits League One and League Two clubs by way of an annual central TV payment.

In some cases, smaller or less financially stable clubs rely on this central TV income to pay wages or, in some cases, for their very existence. It's not that long ago that our club was in a similarly perilous position. Central TV monies played an important part in our survival then too.


2. As a director of The Football League, as well as the Albion's chief executive, do you feel obliged to defend the Sky TV deal?

No, not at all. I'm elected to serve on the Football League board by fellow Championship clubs to represent their interests as well as those of our own club. My job with the League (which is unpaid) is as much to challenge the League's executive on important matters like this as it is to support the other wider interests of clubs.

That said, I am however very pragmatic when it comes to the ongoing finances of our club, of other clubs, and of the Football League as a whole. In this respect, my belief is that Sky remains a very important and extremely valuable commercial partner, not just to the Football League and its member clubs but to football as a whole.


3. How much is TV coverage worth to the club, and can we say no to taking live TV games?

Our annual central Football League income is worth around £5m - with the majority coming from TV payments. This includes around £100,000 per home game shown live on TV and £10,000 per away game shown live on TV. The club is certainly better off having its games shown on TV for a range of different reasons.

Each Championship club is guaranteed a minimum of two home league games to be broadcast live on TV. Clearly, if a particular club is doing well and/or its style of football attracts good TV audiences, they are more likely to receive more live selections. We've met both criteria this season.

Like all 72 clubs, we are party to a legally-binding contract. This mandates us to allow Sky to broadcast our fixtures as they and the Football League may select them throughout the season. Typically, the live TV games are selected in different tranches throughout the season.

However, competing clubs will always be consulted on a particular selection and, as part of the discussions that take place, we do consider the likely impact on travel arrangements for supporters should there be a change of date or time.

Unfortunately, however, transport timetables, roadworks, and individual circumstances are of course totally outside of the club's control and we know it's virtually impossible to please everyone with every selection that's made.

On occasions, live TV selections may be declined for operational, policing or fixture timing reasons but this is rare - and has to be done so with good and justifiable reasons. Clubs recognise that the League has contractual obligations to fulfil and that in doing so, clubs receive significant direct and indirect financial and non-financial benefits.


4. Aside from the base payments we receive, what are the other financial and non-financial benefits of live TV coverage for our club?

Live TV coverage provides our sponsors, and the Leagues (from which all clubs benefit), with important and valuable exposure for their brands. Without this coverage, these commercial deals, currently valued at a around £5m a year to the club (and even more to us in the Premier League), would be worth a lot less.

In addition, live TV exposure helps our club to sell merchandise, hospitality and tickets to future matches, while also building our international profile. As a club that has been massively under-exposed during a quarter of a century of increased live TV coverage for football, this is vitally important.

In short, our club now competes and operates at a completely different level to that previously experienced throughout much of its history. This means we are now part of, and exposed to, a very different level of commerciality. However, I do know that, for some fans, this remains an uncomfortable notion.

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5. Has the money leagues and clubs have received from TV helped the game in other ways?

Yes, it certainly has. While there is much still to do, facilities, at professional and grass roots levels, have improved beyond recognition. At a professional level, we have better and safer stadia, massively improved training and academy facilities, we have larger and better squads, more professional staff, and we employ more people than in our history boosting local economies all over the country.

It's also easy to forget that football's TV monies don't just go towards the professional game or, as some would believe solely to players' salaries, but go towards developing, growing and supporting the game at grass roots levels up and down the country. Any of us that have played the game at any level would have benefitted from this investment in the past 25 years or so.


6. This is all well and good but are you concerned about the disruption to fixtures?

There will always be a fine balance between sporting, supporter, and commercial needs around fixture dates and times. Clearly, we want to win as many matches as we can, ensure as many fans can get to see our games, while also fulfilling our contractual obligations to our partners.

It's this last part that will always be controversial because in order to meet obligations, not least to the TV companies - who also have their own customer, shareholder, employee interests to meet - some will say that money is being put before the interests of fans.

In reality, there has to be a balance - and some give and take. Domestic broadcasters can't show games live on a Saturday at 3pm (to ensure lower levels and grass roots games, which many of us still enjoy, are protected) so, by definition, the fixtures they've paid to broadcast have to move.

Also, we have to recognise that many of the fans that follow their own sides up and down the country most weekends or play football on a weekend also subscribe to Sky (and BT) and they want to be able to see top live action on other days of the week. Again, this means showing games on different days of the week.


7. How can you minimise the effect live TV coverage and fixture changes has on supporters?

Our priority, together with the League and Sky, is to minimise any disruption to supporters attending matches by providing as much notice of changes to fixtures as possible.

Arranging fixtures to suit everyone's individual work plans, travel arrangements, of family events will never be possible - and someone, somewhere will always be inconvenienced, just as they are sometimes at 3pm on a Saturday - but this shouldn't stop us trying to minimise the effects of changes.

This season, for the first time in our history, the Albion has been selected for live league match coverage on ten occasions, six games at home and four games away from home.

However, despite perceptions to the contrary, only five of these matches have moved to a different day of the week. The other five will go/have gone ahead on the day the game was originally scheduled which, even if the kick-off time moves by a couple of hours, is usually more than acceptable to most fans.


8. Are our attendances at the Amex being affected by live TV games?

No, there is no real evidence of this at all. Our attendances have been very consistent all season and our season ticket holder "no show" rates have not increased for the home matches shown live on TV. In fact, Friday evening games tend to be very popular with our season ticket holders.

There may have been a lower number of away supporters traveling for certain games at the Amex - the Brentford and Leeds games come to mind - but it's hard to tell as, for different reasons, neither of those clubs' fans have been traveling in as large numbers as last season anyway.

In reality, while some people are inconvenienced by fixture changes for live TV coverage, others benefit from the changes too. Similarly, live TV coverage also enables Albion fans - who, for whatever reason, financial, health, work, travel or distance can't get the Amex or elsewhere - to watch our games too, helping to maintain and grow our fan base.

If I look at our attendances for the other home live TV games I haven't mentioned here, the Middlesborough and Wolves games both drew crowds of over 26,000 - amongst our highest this season - and we can expect a similar attendance, if not higher, for the important clash with Burnley early next month.


9. You have always said that children are a critically important audience for the club: are the live TV matches stopping them coming to games?

No, I don't believe live TV coverage is significantly affecting the number of children coming to our matches.

In fact, we have only had one match - Leeds United - switched to a conventional school night for reasons of live TV coverage.

Of the other five home games moved for live TV, two were on a Saturday lunchtime, one was on New Year's Day, and two were scheduled on a Friday night (and one of these was in the summer holidays).

Combined with the Leeds United game, we have had a total of six home league fixtures played on a mid-week evening, five of which were originally scheduled as such at the start of the season, and at least one of these games also took place during a school holiday.

Of course, any evening game may well be out of bounds for the youngest of children, but the flexibility offered by our season ticket package means that their place can be taken by an adult up to six times per season, providing the club with another, different, and sometimes new audience.

Even with the changes to home fixtures for live TV in what has been an exceptional season for the club in this regard, our limit of six child-to-adult upgrades - providing our fans with much more flexibility than that provided by many clubs in the Championship - works well.

We have also seen higher numbers of school parties take the opportunity to use the school shelf throughout the season, including many groups coming in for our evening games, when it is easier for many schools in particular, and for local clubs to manage the logistics.

Some younger fans also benefit from being able to see matches on TV they might otherwise be unable to attend for the reasons above.


10. Do you understand why supporters prefer games at the more traditional 3pm on Saturdays, and should fans be compensated if games are moved from this slot?

To some extent, yes, of course, although life has changed a great deal since the period when 3pm kick-offs became something of a tradition (it certainly hasn't always been this way). And, to be frank, life in the top two divisions of football in our country, has long-since changed.

Despite this, by the end of the season, we still expect that at least 35 of our 46 league matches will have been played on a Saturday afternoon (mainly at 3pm but with some games at 12.30) or, if not, on the day they were originally scheduled to be played (typically Tuesday at 7.45pm).

That's over 75% of our fixtures played on the dates we originally published back in the summer, an important statistic that might surprise some supporters who believe that our fixture list has been disrupted to a far greater extent than this.

Such is the nature of modern football, we all know - certainly if we are in one of the top two divisions - that fixtures are subject to change. 

Season tickets are just that. They are sold on the basis that someone is committing to paying for 23 league matches, retaining a seat for those games (in most circumstances, the same one) and receiving a substantial discount for their commitment. This discount can be worth the value of up to 6 or 7 games per season when comparing a break down of the season ticket price versus matchday ticket price.

What we can't absolutely guarantee is exactly when each and every one of our games will be played so, knowing this very important and well publicised fact in advance of a season ticket purchase, I do not believe compensation should be paid if some games are moved. Fans who do require absolute certainty will pick and choose games they wish to attend and as such they accept that they do not benefit from the better value provided by a season ticket.


11. So what can the club or League do to help fans who are trying to plan their schedules around games?

We always advise fans, very clearly from the day the fixture list is first published, that our games are subject to change. We also announce any changes through a range of different club, social and external media at the earliest opportunity.

Of course we understand that supporters want to secure the most economical travel arrangements, but we also advise fans to be very cautious if booking non-refundable or non-changeable fares or hotel rooms. Several operators also offer relatively cost effective insurance cover to help fans guard against the cost or effect of changes to their travel plans.

Separately, The Football League and Sky will soon be holding talks to see if there's more that can be done to minimise disruption to supporters. I would certainly hope that, if at all possible and while recognising that Sky want the most topical fixtures at any given time, these talks will result in supporters being provided with a minimum notice period for changes to any fixtures.


12. Without the revenues from Sky TV, would our club's ticket prices go up?

Unfortunately, yes, ticket prices would go up.

Our TV and sponsorship revenues are now worth a combined £10m a year to the club - that's almost half of our annual turnover. And this figure doesn't take in to account ancillary benefits from the incremental sale of merchandise or hospitality, for example.

I've heard some people say that clubs like ours would easily make this money up in increased match ticket sales and and from match day spending (on food and drink) by fans. Unfortunately, this just isn't the case at all.

In fact, it's a long way off being a credible argument. Even allowing for a generous £25 ticket value (in reality, the average ticket price paid, taking in to account seniors and juniors is far lower), we would need to sell over 8,000 extra seats per league game  - a physical impossibility based on our average crowds in any case - just to make up for the lost TV revenue.

When you add in the reduction in sponsorship value, lower merchandise sales, and the loss of the advertising and promotion benefits for the club, the gap would be impossible to bridge without other, very serious, consequences.


13. What would the other consequences be?

On the basis that it isn't reasonable - or within FFP rules - to ask Tony Bloom to financially contribute even more to our club, we would need to reduce our playing budget, which would make us less competitive in an ever more competitive division.

Alternatively, we could look to reduce the amount we are investing in other key areas of the club, such as our academy, which would make us less sustainable for the future and render our investment in world class facilities at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre entirely futile.

Understandably, I strongly suspect that none of these hypothetical options to bridge the gap of potential lost TV revenue if we were to abandon Sky's support for a more "traditional approach" to our sport would be any more palatable to our supporters than an increase in ticket prices.


14. So, in truth, there's no easy answer to all of this?

In short, no.

As with all emotive debates, there will be some supporters for whom everything I've said here will be disagreeable or simply "spin", but, rightly or wrongly and like them or not, the current financial realities are there for all to see. We are not immune from them, neither can we ignore them.

Our world, and with it, our national game, has changed. In reality, it started to change - and, in my opinion, not for the better - long before 1992, the advent of the Premier League, and Sky's first major foray in to broadcasting live football. We are kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.

As I said in my interview for the club's website a few weeks ago, and repeated to Andy Naylor in his article for The Argus last weekend, arguably more than ever before, TV needs football - and football needs TV.

But, very significantly, both TV and football need the fans too. I simply do not subscribe to the view that the majority of fans who watch live football don't pay for or watch live games on Sky - and vice-versa. In my experience, quite the opposite is true.

However, I do totally subscribe to the view that live football on TV needs a good in-stadium attendance so it's vital that we continue to look for ways to ensure fans can - and want - to attend our matches.

I also strongly believe that we should do all we can to protect, develop, and encourage active participation in our sport. This means preserving the black out of live TV games at 3pm on a Saturday and on a Sunday morning for adults and kids. After all, we surely want a pipeline of potential talent to our academy. But this does mean accepting that Sky will need to move games.

In reality, all of these footballing audiences cross over to very large degrees. And, in my mind, there's a very clear need to protect each one of the sub-sets for the benefit of the other. This means give and take on all sides - TV companies, leagues, clubs, participants and fans - for the wider, longer and greater benefit of the game as a whole.

UPCOMING HOME FIXTURES

ALBION V SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

TUESDAY 8TH MARCH, KICK-OFF 7.45PM


ALBION V READING 

TUESDAY 15TH MARCH, KICK-OFF 7.45PM



ALBION V BURNLEY

SATURDAY 2ND APRIL, KICK-OFF 12.30PM


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